The London-based Minority Rights Group International (MRGI) has said that India could have prevented separatism and bloody insurgencies in Punjab, Kashmir and Nagaland, if it had only replicated what it did to defeat separatism in Tamil Nadu in the 1960s.
In its latest report on India, authored by Maya Chadda, MRGI says that in Tamil Nadu, the Indian Establishment was very accommodative towards the agitating minority ethnic group, the Tamils, thereby stemming separation.
New Delhi had given the state a great deal of autonomy and refrained from interference.
Within Tamil Nadu itself, democracy was allowed to flourish through various systems for the empowerment of underprivileged groups, such as reservations for the backward castes in education and employment.
The many demands made by the Tamil ethnic minority, in matters of language for example, were accepted without much ado.
This strategy turned the movement for an independent “Dravida Nadu” into a willing supporter of the Indian Union and a force for democracy in India as a whole.
Jammu and Kashmir
In contrast, in Jammu and Kashmir, the autonomy granted under Art 370 of the Indian Constitution was eroded so badly that it became a dead letter in no time. Central interference in this Muslim majority state was rife.
Between 1987 and 2002, democratic institutions had been damaged so badly that a genuinely popular revolt arose.
Continuous mismanagement by New Delhi resulted in the movement’s being hijacked in 1992 by Islamic militants, abetted by, and based in, neighbouring Muslim Pakistan.
According to MRGI, about 1500 of the 2,000 or 2,500 militants presently in Kashmir, are rank outsiders based in Pakistan.
There has been an improvement in the situation since the 2002 elections which threw up a popular government.
There is also a détente between India and Pakistan now. However, J&K still remains a “garrison state” where human rights violations are common place.
In Punjab, constant meddling by New Delhi to keep the Sikh party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) out of power, had turned a peaceful movement for Sikh ethnic rights into a militant one, MRGI recalls.
With Pakistan fishing in the troubled waters, New Delhi’s response to the movement took a national security dimension.
Brutal and ham handed handling of the situation, reflected in the military attack on the Golden Temple, the massacre of Sikhs in New Delhi, and widespread violation of human rights, only boosted Sikh militancy.
But by 1992-93, the common Sikh had got alienated from the movement because of the criminalisation of the militants.
On its part, New Delhi had adopted a three pronged strategy which worked.
It went after the militants hammer and tongs (killing 4,000 in the process extra judicially); held elections despite threats from the militants; and allowed the Akali Dal to rule.
But the return to democracy in Punjab had been through a very bloody route, MRGI points out.
In Nagaland, militancy was nurtured by a combination of bad governance, denial of autonomy and the habit of viewing the demands of the ethnic Nagas as being innately dangerous. Protests by them was seen as a law and order or a security problem.
Of these, bad governance has been a major factor. Central funds meant for development are allowed to be swallowed by the local officials and the political elite.
As a result, like the militants, the ruling groups in Nagaland have developed a vested interest in the continuation of the conflict.
According to the MRGI, the Naga revolt has taken 150,000 lives.
Overall record good
But bad as the case of Punjab, Kashmir and Nagaland may be, India’s overall record has not been dismal, says researcher Maya Chadda.
“Integrative strategies have worked in large parts of India,” she stresses, and points out that Punjab, J&K and Nagaland account for only 4 per cent of the country’s one billion population.